Leclerc weight lifted following Spa
Charles Leclerc says that his first win in last weekends Belgian Grand Prix takes “quite a bit of weight” from his shoulders after a first step that is “always difficult to do.”
The Monacan held off Lewis Hamilton to take his maiden win at Spa on Sunday, following near-misses in Bahrain and Austria earlier this season. Ahead of Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza, where he arrives as Ferrari’s only race winner in 2019, Leclerc said: “I am very happy this first win is done.”
“It’s always difficult to do this first step but once you do it, it takes quite a bit of weight out of your shoulders. I am very proud, but not much time to think about it. We are already here only four days later in Italy and we need to focus fully on the job we have to do here.”
Leclerc held on to victory by nine-tenths from Hamilton, having struggled compared to the world championship leader in the second stint. He admitted that the nature of the race and death of his friend Anthoine Hubert made it a “very tough weekend”.
He added, “There was great teamwork between myself and especially Seb [Vettel] who did the job keeping Lewis behind for a few laps that were very helpful for me towards the end of the race.”
Teammate Vettel has admitted he played the role of “road block”, after struggling to match his teammate for pace and tyre management. Vettel’s winless streak in F1 has now passed a full year, having failed to score a victory since the 2018 Belgian GP.
Leclerc is building momentum in the intra-Ferrari battle, and Vettel said: “I think it is positive that he has surprised probably a lot of people outside. Inside, he has been with Ferrari with the driver academy for a while.”
The four-times champion believes that Leclerc’s has a lot of potential, and was good that he had pace straight away. Adding, “That seems to work and that is the important thing. It was a big weekend for him last weekend even through it was overshadowed by circumstances.”
Hamilton facing “twice as hard” challenge
Lewis Hamilton says he will need to “twice as hard” to stay ahead of rising starts Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. The three drivers have proved the leaders in the midseason for their respective teams, Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.
Hamilton and Verstappen have won two of the last five races apiece, with Ferrari’s Leclerc winning the other in his debut Grand Prix victory at Spa last Sunday. Aged thirty-four, Hamilton is thirteen years older than both twenty one-year-olds and has been impressed by their early-career progress.
Speaking to Sky Sports Italia, the Englishman said “They are both doing a phenomenal job. It’s interesting to watch their journey because I’ve been there at that age in the earlier part of my career and seeing the trials and tribulations you go through.”
“So I can empathise with what they are going through. I’ve got to work twice as hard now to stay ahead of them because they are fresh and young and energised, and it’s harder when you get older to stay as fit, as driven and as sharp.”
Verstappen and Leclerc are leading the sport’s next generation of young drivers, both have a very slim chance of a maiden championship. But Hamilton has sixty-five point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas with two hundred and eight points to play for.
Hamilton insists “I honestly don’t even know the number of points I have” but says he keeps tabs on his race finishing positions and “that’s what I try to keep as high as possible.”
“I have no idea if and when or how the rest of the championship is going to go but I have to try and make sure I keep punching at this high level,” added Hamilton.
Mercedes head to Monza where they have been unbeaten since the hybrid turbo regulations came in 2014, while Hamilton is also the joint Monza record holder with five victories overall.
However, has Leclerc’s impressive win for Ferrari in Belgium established the home team as the clear favourites at Monza this weekend.
Hard to resolve start issues – Verstappen
Max Verstappen says it is “really hard” for Red Bull and Honda to solve the issue which is affecting his starts this season. Although the Dutchman has won two races this season, they both followed poor starts.
At his home race in Spa on Sunday, he clashed with Kimi Raikkonen at the first corner last weekend in Belgium trying to recover from another slow start. The 21-year-old switches to Honda’s latest Spec 4 engine for the Italian Grand Prix and will start Sunday’s race at the back of the grid.
Asked by Motorsport.com if he and his team had got to the bottom of his poor start at Spa, Verstappen said: “We know what the problem is, but it’s really hard to solve. Hopefully now with the new engine, it will be a bit better. As soon as I release the clutch, that bit afterwards, we seemed to struggle a bit.”
Verstappen believes his start procedure has been done well and doesn’t think he is doing anything wrong, suspecting “it’s more about how the engine delivers the torque at low rpm”, although the spec of the engine is not believed to be the problem, and start line performance is defined by various factors.
He also believes the penalty for a bad start is greater, and that the spotlight is on him more than the other Honda drivers because he has been the lead threat among that quartet through 2019. He admitted “it looks a bit worse” when he has fallen away from the first two or three rows of the grid but insisted “it’s not all bad”.
“We’ve had decent starts where we don’t really gain a position, but we are there, or like in Hungary, we stayed first,” said Verstappen.
Mixed fortunes for McLaren’s engines
Carlos Sainz Renault engine is “alive” after its failure last weekend but McLaren teammate Lando Norris will take a grid penalty at the Italian Grand Prix.
Sainz suffered a loss of power before the Belgian Grand Prix had even started and he managed just one lap before retiring. While Norris managed the whole race before retiring from fifth place on the final lap with a loss of power.
Norris will switch to a new engine at Monza, which will mean he takes a grid penalty, but that was the team’s plan.
Sainz has revealed that the engine that wrecked his race in Belgium, is clear to be used in practice on Friday, even though he is set to ditch it for the race weekend itself.
Monza signs a new five-year deal
Organisers of the Italian Grand Prix have signed a new contract until 2024, meaning Monza will celebrate its century since the first Grand Prix was held at the circuit in 2021.
Monza has held sixty-eight Formula One races since the formation of the championship in 1950, which is more than any other circuit. Only Italy and Britain have hosted F1 rounds every year since the championship’s inaugural year in 1950.
F1 chairman and chief executive officer Chase Carey said: “History, speed and passion are words that motorsport fans associate with Monza. The feeling one gets at this Grand Prix is truly unique.”
F1’s owners, the US group Liberty Media, have pledged to protect the sport’s most historic races at the same as extending the calendar and branching out into new territories.
Next year, F1 will have a record twenty-two races season, following the return of the Dutch Grand Prix for the first time since 1985, and the addition of a new race in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.
Monza Williams toughest race – Russell
George Russell says that this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix to be Williams “toughest” race of the season because of the characteristics of Monza. The delayed car build has left the team behind all season, but made some progress before the summer break.
However, in qualifying at Spa last weekend, it was the teams worst session of the season. The caveat that the Spa lap is the longest on the calendar – with a high level of drag compromising the car’s performance. Given Monza places an even higher premium on straight-line performance than Spa, Russell said he was braced for a difficult Italian GP weekend.
He told Autosport, “In all honesty, it’s probably an even harder weekend than Spa. Everybody knows we’re struggling with downforce, but probably not a lot of people know that we have an incredible amount of drag on the car as well, [it is] incredibly slow in the straights.”
“[At Spa] we were up to two seconds slower on the straight versus the quickest cars, a second slower on the straight versus anyone else. So it was incredibly difficult for us.” He believes that following Budapest the team lacked speed in the corners.
Team-mate Robert Kubica said the Spa weekend proved as difficult for Williams as expected, with “no bad or good surprises”, and conceded “it probably will not get better or easier” at Monza.
He added, “I think the gap will be smaller because Monza is generally the track where the gaps are smaller, but for our top speed and our drag, it will not change a lot.”
Williams brought an update before the summer break, while it provided substantial downforce gains that appears to have come at a cost for the car’s aerodynamic efficiency.
Albon’s good start brushed off by Kvyat
Daniil Kvyat has dismissed suggestions that his former teammate Alex Albon made a good start to his Red Bull career at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner praised Albon for his fighting display at Spa-Francorchamps, which saw the British-Thai driver pull off impressive overtakes on Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez on his way to fifth from starting in eighteenth.
However, not everyone was impressed, Kvyat, who returned to F1 with Toro Rosso this year, was quick to point out that Albon spent much of the race stuck behind his car.
The Russian told ESPN, “I don’t know why you call it such a good start. He spent thirty-six laps behind me in a Red Bull Racing car, and he started in front of me as well. I don’t know, maybe in the future, he will do better.”
Albon’s move to Red Bull is to decide who should partner Max Verstappen next year. The Russian is believed to be in the mix for a drive next year given the fact he drove for the team in 2015 and the opening three races of 2016.
When asked if he was paying close attention to Albon’s progress, he said: “Normally I don’t but I had to because we were fighting the whole race in Spa. If he had stayed at Toro Rosso then yeah it would have been an amazing race for him, but he was in a Red Bull, so…”
Kvyat refused to say Albon should have done a better job but was keen to stress again that Albon had struggled to get past him.
The Weekend Ahead
Formula One heads to the final race of the European season, where Ferrari should be strong like we saw last week at Spa. Monza is about straight-line speed and traction, which could see another race between Ferrari and Mercedes. But it’s a question of who is better in the corners.
I think Spa proved that if Ferrari can keep there cool and their act together they can beat Mercedes again. But, they have not won their home race since 2010, though they have the most wins. Ferrari faces a huge challenge which will prove if Spa was a one-off.
This is going to be another tough race for those nearer the back of the field, as Monza is the fastest race in terms of time because of the speed and short nature of the circuit. Monza’s nature can also lead to accidents due to the huge braking zones, and the chicanes where its common for collisions into the corners.
Qualifying is one of the least important of the year because overtaking is possible this essentially is for straights broken up by chicanes. But as drivers push mistakes can be very costly, though the gravel traps are smaller it’s still punishing for mistakes.
This is Ferrari country, so expect the team to be supported wildly and that win at Spa is going to add optimism to the fans.
You can join us for LIVE coverage of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix via Twitter @F1VaultLive starting with FP1 Friday from 10:45 CEST / 09:45 BST, Qualifying 14:45/13:45 and forward race coverage 14:40/13:40 lights out 15:10 / 14:10